All posts tagged Neoptolemos

About Alexander the Great

Published March 29, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

So, this week (or rather these two weeks, since this is Spring Break) I’m reading Nietzsche for class, and I came across this bit that I flagged with the intention of using it for Words Crush Wednesday:

“You shall always be the first and excel all others:  your jealous soul shall love no one, unless it be the friend” — that made the soul of the Greek quiver:  thus he walked the path of his greatness.  (Also Sprach Zarathustra, Walter Kaufmann translation)

Obviously, that one grabbed my attention ’cause it seemed to me that he was talking about one very specific, if mythical, Greek.

But this morning, a sudden thought struck me:  what if he was actually talking about Alexander the Great?  The histories of Alexander’s life as they’ve come down to us (which have not changed significantly from Nietzsche’s day) would certainly fit this, and given Alexander’s (alleged) obsession with Achilles, it would certainly be believable that he, like his hero/alleged ancestor, would want to “excel all others” even if he was never specifically given that paternal command the way Achilles was.

Then, of course, I kept thinking about this duo, mythic ancestor and historic descendant, and — as always — the oddity of Alexander’s name in one who would revere Achilles continued to haunt me.

But then I had what felt like a mini revelation.

Alexander’s claim to descent from Achilles primarily came from his mother, yes?  And it’s a famous historical myth that his parents really didn’t get along with each other.  (I don’t have enough background in Alexander studies to know if there’s any hope of discerning whether there’s truth to the myth, so I won’t try to claim any knowledge of its potential factuality.  (Is that a word?))

So, if Philip was already not getting on with his wife by the time their son was born, and he knew that her family more than anything else prized their descent from Achilles, might he not have purposefully named his son after the killer of Achilles, as a vengeance on his wife?

Now, yes, I know Alexander was a family name among the kings of Macedon.  (Philip was the second, but Alexander was the…fourth?  Sixth?  Well, he wasn’t the first.  I know that much for sure.)  But was it really necessary for him to bear that name, or could it have been either an attack on an unloved wife, or at least an attack on her claim to descent from Achilles?

Obviously, I’m posing these questions knowing there’s no way of answering them, but I do find the idea an appealing one.  It would be very believable in fiction, even if it can never feel like fact in reality.

There were certainly a plethora of other names to choose from (there always are), and if another branch of the Epiran royalty is anything to go by, there were many family names Alexander could have received from his mother’s side.  In the opening of his “Life of Pyrrhus,” Plutarch says

To Æacides were born of Phthia, Deidamia and Troas, daughters, and Pyrrhus a son.

The Molossians, afterwards falling into factions and expelling Æacides, brought in the sons of Neoptolemus, and such friends of Æacides as they could take were all cut off. (Dryden translation)

Æacides, while not usually spelled that way these days (I prefer Aiakides), means “(grand)son of Aiakos,” and is one of the epithets of Achilles in ancient literature.  (I’d say “in Homer” except that it continued in common use all that way up to late Roman times.)  Phthia is Achilles’ homeland (and yes, that was the name of Æacides’ wife, so she was obviously also of the apparently very large group of Epiran nobles who considered themselves descended from Achilles), Deidamia is the mother of Achilles’ son, Troas actually kind of doesn’t fit because it’s a Trojan name, and Pyrrhus was the other name of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles.  (Of course, I prefer to spell those names with an “o” instead of a “u” but…different spelling, same name.  In the sentences that follow, names ending in an “os” are mythical characters, and ones in a “us” are historical people.)  Also, Pyrrhus named his son Helenus, after Helenos, the one son of Priam who survived the Trojan War, who was enslaved to Neoptolemos and used his prophetic powers to aid Neoptolemos in his return to Greece, and proved so useful that Neoptolemos freed him and gave him all sorts of gifts, including reign over Molossia, though Helenos left the kingdom not to his own son (fathered on Andromache, Hector’s widow) but to Molossos, Neoptolemos’ son (also fathered on Andromache), who Helenos had raised following Neoptolemos’ death.  Clearly, Molossos’ descendants (or rather those who considered themselves his descendants) were grateful for Helenos’ kindness.  (Though Plutarch says Pyrrhus is descended from a legitimate son of Neoptolemos fathered on a daughter of Hyllos.  This is chronologically impossible, especially since Neoptolemos — like his father — died very young.  I think Plutarch either condensed two generations, meaning that Molossos was actually the one married to the daughter of Hyllos, or the Epirans were a little confused about the chronology in the rest of Greece.  I’d say they just didn’t want to be descended from a Trojan, but if that was the case, why would they use names like Troas and Helenos?)

If you’re wondering about the timing of Pyrrhus’ life, his sister Deidamia had been engaged/married in infancy to Alexander the Great’s infant son by Roxana.  (Unlike Alexander’s son, however, Deidamia actually lived to adulthood.)  Pyrrhus himself married one of the daughters of Ptolemy I, Alexander’s general who ended up in control of Egypt.  (Pyrrhus, btw, is the source of our saying “a Pyrrhic victory,” because he lost so many of his own men in fighting the Romans.  He still won, though, so the Romans considered him one of their worst enemies of all time, right up there with Hannibal.  (In part, no doubt, because they never managed to beat Pyrrhus.))

Anyway, lengthy digression aside, point is that there were lots of names Philip could have given his son that would have embraced rather than conflicted with his wife’s alleged descent from Achilles.  The fact that he didn’t might not mean anything more than that he didn’t believe the stories that the Epiran royal families were all descended from Neoptolemos.  (And it’s hard to blame his skepticism if such skepticism was there.)  Or it might have meant something less friendly.  Impossible to say from here.

While I’m on the subject, you may have noticed a certain amount of skepticism on my part in the early paragraphs of this post, when discussing Alexander’s life.  There’s a good reason for that:  we know so little about it.  Sure, there’s all sorts of things we think we know, but all the histories that survived were written centuries after the fact.  Ptolemy famously wrote a history of Alexander’s life, but it — like all other contemporary accounts — has been lost.  Our earliest account is Plutarch, and our fullest is Arrian.  And, as Mary Beard pointed out, Arrian wrote in the time of Hadrian, who famously and scandalously (yes, it was a scandal even in his own time) went to extravagant lengths in mourning his beloved Antinoos.  Arrian couldn’t write about that without risking himself, but he could write about Alexander going to great lengths to mourn Hephaistion, making sure to draw plenty of parallels between Alexander and his hero Achilles and Hephaistion and Patroclos so it wouldn’t seem suspicious to the emperor whose favor he no longer had.  Plutarch doesn’t actually draw that much attention to any particular fondness Alexander may have had for his alleged ancestor Achilles:  his main mention is the famous bit about the visit to Achilles’ (alleged) tomb, but that was traditional, and most Greeks likely would have done the same (except, perhaps, for the naked footrace) if they found themselves in the region of Troy.  Certainly, anyone claiming descent from the hero would have felt obligated to thus anoint his tomb, as there was definitely an aspect of ancestor worship in the hero worship of the ancient Greeks.  (That wasn’t the only factor, by any means, but there were definite overtones.)  Thus my skepticism that Alexander did, in fact, revere Achilles the way Arrian tells us he did.  (He did go to great lengths in mourning Hephaistion, if we can trust Plutarch, but they weren’t quite as extravagant as Arrian claims.)

Obviously, I think it’s much more interesting if Arrian was right, but the historian in me says “nope, must reserve judgement.”  (The novelist in me, of course, insists that Alexander was, naturally, quite obsessed with Achilles, and that he and Hephaistion liked to roleplay as Achilles and Patroclos.  Because that’s more interesting.)

In retrospect, I probably should have named this post differently, as I didn’t really spend that much time talking about Alexander himself…

…but I’m too lazy to go back and change it.  Besides, I have to go get my laundry out of the washing machine and put it in the drier.

Phi is for Philoctetes

Published April 25, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Okay, I know, it’s supposed to be V.  But there’s no V in Greek, and I don’t feel like talking about Virgil right now.  So I’m subbing in the Greek letter Phi to take the place of V.  Since the rules said you weren’t removed from the challenge’s official list unless you missed five days in a row, I don’t think I’m being terribly unreasonable.  (And, let’s face it, I’m only doing this because it sounded fun.)

So, Philoctetes.  He’s one of the Greeks at the Trojan War, as you might expect coming from me.  (I know, I seem just slightly obsessed.  But I am doing my Master’s Thesis on Achilles, so…that’s only to be expected.)  However, Philoctetes is one of the lesser known of the Greek heroes, as he’s not in the Iliad, apart from a brief mention during the Catalog of Ships.  (Which is, of course, the first part that the casual reader is likely to skip over.)

Unlike Protesilaos, the other absent hero merely mentioned in the Catalog of Ships, Philoctetes isn’t absent because he’s dead.  No, he’s absent because he’s been exiled on an island halfway between Greece and Troy.

When the war started, no doubt Philoctetes was expecting to become a great hero, aiding them in winning the war more than anyone else.  And everyone else probably expected the same great things from him.  Why?  Because his weapon of choice was the Bow of Heracles, which never misses.  (How that works is not made clear.  But I’ve talked about it in my novel as the arrows literally chasing down fleeing prey, twisting and turning with them.  Which is possibly more fanciful than the ancients intended.)  From the story-teller’s perspective, that’s probably why Philoctetes had to be removed from the picture before they even reached Troy, because otherwise the war would have been won long before the tenth year.  (One shot fired at Hector, and it’d all be over, you know?)  Philoctetes has the Bow of Heracles because when Heracles lay dying on his pyre, no one was willing to light it, and Heracles bribed a passer-by (either the local king or a shepherd, depending on the version) to light it by giving him his magic bow and arrows (possibly with the fatal poison for the arrows, even).  That passer-by was usually Philoctetes’ father, but sometimes was Philoctetes himself.

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The White Island and the last descendant of King Priam

Published February 9, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

Unlike revealed religions, the ancient Greek religion changed and grew over time, even in its most basic workings.  Foreign deities became folded in as an accepted part of their religion, even if sometimes their exact relation to the rest of it was obscure–like with Cybele–or if it meant they had multiple myths of origin–the way Aphrodite was both said to be the daughter of Zeus and Dione and to have risen whole out of the sea.  (The former is from the Iliad, the latter from Hesiod’s Theogony, so they’re of virtually identical ages.  Personally, I prefer the former.)

The change I want to talk about today was in the ancient Greek religion’s perceptions of the afterlife.  (And if you’ve read my post about Zeus and Hades, I apologize for the repetition to follow.  You can skip to the next paragraph if you like.)  This changed dramatically over the years, and many of the mystery cults likely featured a better afterlife as one of the benefits of joining them, but as the mystery cult members were forbidden to pass on the secret knowledge, we don’t know much about any of them.  But we do know for certain that the Orphic cults included a better afterlife, and it’s highly likely that the Eleusinian Mysteries also included one.  (Given that it featured worship of Persephone in an underground cave, the notion that they didn’t include some focus on the afterlife is rarely even posited.)  However, from the earliest surviving literature, we already see the presence of a better afterlife for the best of mortals.  Homer called it the Elysian Fields, and Hesiod called it the Isles of the Blessed.  At some point following the composition of the Odyssey, a third paradisaical afterlife was added, the White Island, Leukos, populated by deceased heroes, especially those who had died fighting in the Trojan War, since it was ruled over by Achilles.  Unlike the other two, Leukos was also a real island in the Euxene, where sailors could land and make offerings to Achilles, asking for favors or whatever they were doing.  (Though various objects offered up there have been recovered archaeologically, most of the inscriptions haven’t been terribly informative, and many merely had Achilles’ name on them, and sometimes only part of it.)

Most of what little we know about the temple that had been built to Achilles on Leukos is from reports made by travelers who went there, or from people who heard gossip from sailors who had been there, or who heard gossip of the gossip of…ad infinitum.  So most of the information isn’t terribly reliable as fact, but it’s very interesting as a kind of folklore.  The kinds of things that the ancient Greeks believed might be possible regarding what the spirit of one of their dead heroes semi-deified could do.  For example, some of the people who brought animals to the island to sacrifice them brought extra animals, and left the extras behind to live wild on the island (which was apparently unpopulated).  Okay, that much seems totally believable…apart from being a little too charitable on the part of the people who brought the spare animals, but maybe they were trying to curry extra favor with the demi-god.  But it was reported that people who didn’t bring an animal to sacrifice could make a monetary offering to Achilles, and when they had offered enough money, then he would drive one of the loose animals to them so they could sacrifice it.  This was reported as being “true,” so whoever was reporting it must have believed it.  Of course, it’s easy to see how that could have seemed true:  let’s hypothesize that some guy brought three sheep with him, relatively tame ones, and left two to be offerings for less fore-thinking pilgrims, while sacrificing the third himself.  Some other pilgrim comes along a day or two later, and starts laying out money while saying that he wishes he had an animal to sacrifice properly, but the one he had brought with him for the purpose took ill on the journey and died.  Then, lo and behold, one of those tame sheep comes up, and he thinks Achilles has provided it for him.  Of course, it really just came up because it’s tame and it heard a person there and thought maybe its master had come back, but he doesn’t know that, and so he passes the story on to others, who agree with him that it was the spirit of Achilles who drove the sheep to the altar just when it was needed.  And so a legend was born.  Or something along those lines.

But what I really want to talk about is a different myth that sprang up about the island.  The following is a quote from a book I read parts of for my final paper last semester.  (I should have read the whole thing, but I had so much other reading to do!  I’m going to read the rest of it when I finish the book on Amazons.)  The book is called The Greeks and Greek Love, by James Davidson, and this quote comes from page 331.

One man claimed to have met Achilles himself on the island and spent time with him.  Achilles blessed his business prospects and asked him to bring him a certain woman of Troy, the last remaining descendant, little did people know, of Priam.  [deletion of several sentences for time]  Achilles told the visitors to leave the last of the Trojans behind with him when they departed.  As they sailed away they heard screams and saw Achilles tearing her limb from limb.

It’s hard to know how to read that story.  It’s from Philostratus, a Greek living in the Roman Empire, around AD 200.  I haven’t (yet) read the original source, so I don’t know how old Philostratus was saying the story was, when he was claiming this to have taken place.  The part that’s been sticking with me hasn’t been the fact that the long deceased Achilles would want to slaughter an innocent woman just because she’s the last blood relation of Patroclos’ killer.  What’s been eating at me lately is that claim about her bloodline.

Because how could she possibly be the last descendant of King Priam?

King Priam, as many people know, had a hundred children, fifty of them sons and fifty of them daughters.  Only one of his sons survived the war:  Helenos, who ended up as a prisoner of the Greeks, and was given to Achilles’ son Neoptolemos as part of his booty.  How many of his daughters are still alive after the fall of Troy is unknown:  we know that Cassandra dies on Agamemnon’s arrival with her in Mycenae, and that Polyxena is sacrificed on Achilles’ grave, but the other 48 are less certain.  Telephos, king of Mysia, was married either to one of Priam’s daughters or to one of his sisters; sources vary, but daughter is usually more common than sister.  However, the only child of Telephos I know of off-hand is Eurypylos, who dies at the hands of Neoptolemos, so the Mysian branch may well be extinct by the time the war is over.  As to the other daughters, we know some of them had husbands, but most of them we don’t know the names of either half of the couple, and thus don’t know their fate…but they probably end up as slaves to the Greeks at the end of the war, so I suppose most of them probably drown when the Achaian fleet is destroyed by Athene in vengeance for the rape of Cassandra and the desecration of Athene’s temple.  However, in some late versions–very well established by Philostratus’ time!–Aeneas is married to a daughter of Priam, so his son Ascanius is a grandson of Priam.  And Ascanius, in the Aeneid, is also called Iulus, and Julius Caesar and all his clan are supposed to be descended from him.  So talking about the death of the last descendant of King Priam in Roman times should have seemed like anti-Roman propaganda!  (Of course, for all I know, it was.  That is, of course, why I shouldn’t be having this kind of impassioned one-person-debate about a text I’ve only seen summarized in a few sentences.)

But let’s backtrack to the last son of King Priam, Helenos.  He was, as I said, made a slave of Neoptolemos, but Helenos was a seer with power as great as his twin sister Cassandra’s, but without Apollo’s curse, so people believed him.  (Uh, that’s all in late texts, of course.  In early texts, Cassandra has neither prophetic powers nor a curse from Apollo.  But Helenos was an augur already in the Iliad.)  Helenos used his powers of prophecy to protect Neoptolemos from the disaster that befell the rest of the Greeks on their way home, and aided him in other ways as well, so that by the time Neoptolemos was finished conquering Molossia in Epirus (and I have no idea why he was there or why he chose to conquer it, btw) Neoptolemos freed Helenos and gave him rule over Molossia while Neoptolemos set off for Sparta to claim his promised bride, Hermione, daughter of Menelaos and Helen.  In some versions, Neoptolemos also left behind his concubine Andromache and his three sons by her, while in other versions he took Andromache and their one son with him to Sparta.  (Yeah, even the number of kids changes.  That’s what makes compiling “master” versions of myths so deucedly tricky.)  Either way, after the death of Neoptolemos at Delphi, Andromache ends up in Molossia with Helenos, as his wife.  Helenos raises Neoptolemos’ son(s) along with the one son that Andromache bears to him.  So growing up alongside Achilles’ grandson(s) is a grandson of Priam.  (Given how much younger than Priam Achilles was, that’s totally insane, especially since the grandson of Priam is younger.)  Helenos’ son would be a prince–even though Helenos eventually hands over the throne of Molossia to Molossos, Neoptolemos’ oldest (or only) son–and the half-brother of the grandson(s) of Achilles.  With that privileged background, Helenos’ son might have had any number of children.  And given the way royal marriages worked in mythic times in ancient Greece, they probably would have intermarried with Molossos’ line.  And from Molossos’ line, I might add, came–according to their own beliefs–all of the royal families of Epirus and Macedonia in historical times, including Alexander the Great himself.

That just makes it all the more improbable that anyone who put any thought into the matter would have thought that Priam could have only one descendant left.  So it seems to me that either that story sprang up in an area where they didn’t know much about the more complicated post-Trojan War myths, or they had some other agenda in telling that story.  Without knowing the context, Philostratus may have made it up out of whole cloth to suit his philosophical purpose, for all I know.  (Plato, for example, would not have been above that.  In fact, he’s known to have done that very famously…)

In short…uh…I have been rambling pointlessly about something that has been on my mind lately…despite that it is totally meaningless and comes to no logical or rational conclusion.

But that’s just the way I am, I guess.

Mythic origins

Published December 23, 2014 by Iphis of Scyros

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the “which came first?” debate regarding Patroclos and Antilochos.  There is a repetitive pattern, you see, which goes something like this:  Achilles loses someone close to him, knows he will die if he avenges him, and then he goes ahead and avenges him anyway, with the fates of him and his rival being weighed as they fight.  The version in the Iliad is, of course, well known to all.  (Rather, it bloody well ought to be!)  But the lost epic the Aithiopis told the similar tale in which Memnon killed Antilochos, and then Achilles killed Memnon to avenge him, only to die himself as he charged the city gates.  All we have for the Aithiopis is a summary and a few fragments, so it’s only a matter of speculation regarding what the precise relationship between Achilles and Antilochos was.  We know from the Iliad that they were friends, and that Antilochos was the youngest of the Achaians (and yet, bizarrely, he was also a suitor of Helen, despite that Achilles was too young to have been a suitor of Helen) so there is speculation in the academic community that Antilochos might have been Achilles’ eromenos in that lost epic, or in earlier works of oral composition that were never written down at all.  However, the ancient commentators never talk about any bond between Achilles and Antilochos other than friendship, whereas they held up Achilles and Patroclos as the ideal of love between men.  (Though there was some argument and changing of generally held opinions regarding who was the erastes and who the eromenos.)  This may have been because the scholars who say that there was romantic/sexual love between Achilles and Antilochos are wrong, or it may just be because the Iliad is one of the greatest works of literature ever, and the Aithiopis was not.  (If it was, it would have survived.)  Anyway, I’ve seen it theorized that “Homer” borrowed the bereavement/soul-weighing/vengeance motif that had originally been regarding Antilochos and Memnon, and applied it to Patroclos and Hector, thus forcibly implying a romantic bond between Achilles and Patroclos.  However, I’ve also seen it theorized that in earlier versions of the myth, Achilles had died immediately after killing Hector, as is implied by some of Thetis’ dialog in the Iliad, and that Memnon had to be invented to repeat the pattern to kill Achilles in the post-Iliad version of the myth.

As a die-hard Patroclos fan, obviously I dislike a version that makes him secondary to anyone.  However, I try to keep a level head about these things, and not let fondness overturn reason.

Now, I’ve not read much of the actual scholarship on the subject.  Just a tiny sample of the arguments on both sides.  So I don’t know the full story, academically.  Much of my theorizing on the subject therefore will necessarily seem uneducated to anyone who knows the full argument.  (As no doubt it will seem to me six months to a year from now, when I’ll probably have read much more about it.)  But I was thinking about it, just going through the myth as it has survived to now, and trying to work out which way would make sense as the earlier verison.

Neither fully works for me as the “true” pre-Iliad version.  Because if the Antilochos/Memnon version is the earlier version, then what happened to Patroclos and Hector?  Or rather, from the minimal attention paid to Patroclos in the Iliad prior to the time when he’s actually needed to start acting, it’s clear that the original audience both knew who he was, and that he was Achilles’ closest companion.  Everyone else–like Automedon, his charioteer–is “introduced” several times by their rank, role or closeness level, but Patroclos is not, because “Homer” knew that his audience didn’t need to be told that.  So he has to pre-date the Iliad by a significant margin.  And while Memnon’s demi-god status makes him a more fitting rival to Achilles than Hector is (especially since Memnon’s immortal parent is his mother, as Achilles’ is), it cannot be that Troy’s original primary defender was not a Trojan, but the King of Ethiopia.  So Hector always had to be the major enemy who needed defeating, and Achilles had to be the man to do it.

But on the other hand, the Patroclos/Hector model doesn’t quite work as the primary earlier version, either.  Because–as I just said–Achilles is a demi-god and Hector is an ordinary mortal, so where is the surprise that Achilles can defeat him?  Why was there a need to weigh their souls?  And why is the greatest hero of the Achaian forces giving up his life for the love of a man whose father is a nobody?  (Well, other than the obvious reason that love doesn’t care about bloodlines.  (Unless you’re a vampire.))

So, since both versions feel logically flawed when taken individually, it occurred to me that maybe around the time the Iliad was composed there were two versions floating around.  Perhaps the Patroclos/Hector version was the one more common in Ionia, and the Antilochos/Memnon version was more common in Greece, but most bards were aware of both, and freely swapped elements and motifs back and forth between them.

That, of course, still leaves the question of where the myths truly came from, and which one actually came first, what the original myth actually looked like.  To look at that, we have to speculate about their ultimate origin.  And about whether or not they’re based on anything that really happened.

If there was a joint Achaian venture against Troy–or rather Wilusa–that inspired the myths, then it was probably around 1250 BC, according to some of the latest archaeological work.  But Troy didn’t fall in 1250 BC; there was a Troy that fell much earlier, and another that fell much later, but mid-thirteenth century Troy was not destroyed.  So right there you have a variance from the myth:  if there really was a war between the Ahhiyawa and the Wilusans during the reign of Alaksandu, it did not end with the city being destroyed.  The Hittites were busy with their own affairs, but not that busy.

So let’s imagine what might really have happened to have spawned the myth that eventually grew into the one we know today.  Many of the names of the Homeric characters have been found in Linear B tablets as the names of ordinary people, so there might well have been real people that inspired some of those characters, so let’s make the (possibly absurd) leap of faith to assume that the Ahhiyawa forces were dominated by a man named Achilleus who was just unstoppable on the battlefield.

Maybe he had some close companion who was killed, and who he avenged.  That seems likely enough; battle scenes in literature the world over are replete with men avenging their friends slain in battle.  But not necessarily such a close friend as to be inseparable, or that they might have seemed to be more than friends.

More than that, though, looking at the myths, and especially the way Neoptolemos is usually handled, if there was a real man named Achilleus fighting in that war and proving to be so much stronger than his fellows…he probably survived.  Neoptolemos is always described as being exactly like his father in appearance, and some of the explanations of his birth don’t actually allow him enough time to be an adult by the time he shows up at Troy (and/or don’t make Achilles old enough to have fathered him before reaching Troy).  And his behavior is much like Achilles’, overall.  (Depending on whose Achilles you’re talking about.  The one in the Iliad ran the full gamut from horrific to thoughtful and contemplative.  Other authors were more likely to focus on one side or the other.  Though the same can be said about Neoptolemos:  the one in Sophocles’ Philoctetes is entirely unlike the vicious killer he’s said to have been in the Ilioupersei.)  So one real person may have become two mythical characters.  And why?  Probably because after the war was over, he went home and continued to be a terrible person, and did things that the poets didn’t want their hero to be guilty of.  So that was his son, who happened to look just like him, of course!  Or the terrible things he did were during the conclusion of the war.  That explanation also works.

Though it brings me to my next point.  Because obviously if there was a real war, it didn’t end in the destruction of Troy, so the entire story of what happened in the sack cannot be based on anything real.  Or not anything real from that particular war.  The horrors of war are universal, and can readily be transposed from one to another, particularly when the technology of warfare doesn’t change between the wars in question.  They might also have been basic mythic/bardic tropes that were already centuries old by the time of the Trojan War.

So how did it really end?  Beats the smeg out of me.  Probably, the Hittites rode in with a huge army and put a stop to it.  Or whatever had been the cause was nullified in the appropriate manner.  Given back/paid for/killed/what-have-you.

That asks the question if they could really have been fighting over a woman.  Hard to say.  There are records from the Late Bronze Age where two minor kingdoms did actually come close to war over a woman–she was apparently either an unwilling bride or an adulterous one, and married to a king, no less–but the Hittites intervened and prevented open warfare.  So it’s not impossible that a stolen queen could lead to war, but it does seem improbable that a queen could be so easily stolen.  (Whether or not she wanted to go, it would still be somewhere between difficult and impossible to get her out.  Hence the reason in the myth that Menelaos is usually in Crete for his grandfather’s funeral when Helen is taken.)

Of course, Helen running off to Troy with Alexander/Paris has always been the weak spot of the myth.  Because no matter how you slice it, it makes no sense, unless you assume the purely external “the gods forced her to do it” explanation.  Okay, sure, maybe she doesn’t love Menelaos and wants to elope with the handsome, exotic visitor.  Fine.  But why would she run away from her father’s kingdom and go to the kingdom where her beau is only the second in line for the throne?  Menelaos only becomes King of Lacedaemon because he marries Helen:  if she doesn’t want him any longer, it would make much more sense for her Trojan lover to kill him and then marry her, becoming the new king.  If he made it look like an accident or bandits on the road, he would likely get away with it entirely.  (And that’s only assuming that there’s no method of divorce.  If she could simply end her marriage, then that would be the obvious course of action.  There were ways of ending marriages in the Late Bronze Age (at least in Anatolia) but I don’t know if it was possible for the woman to set them in motion.)  Why do something so stupid as to take her away to Troy, leaving her husband alive and well and howling for retribution?  Even in ancient times, this never sat well with people.  Herodotus went to great lengths trying to come up with an explanation that made sense, and it still didn’t.

Net result?  No way the real war was over Helen.  Not if Helen was the same Spartan Queen we know.  Because it made no sense for her to leave.  So if it was fought over a runaway/abducted wife, then she was not the wife of a king, not his primary wife, anyway.  There are strong indications that it wasn’t just Sparta:  in the Late Bronze Age, inheritance via the female line was typical, so that it was the son-in-law who inherited, not the son.  (Not that it happened everywhere.  But it did happen among the Hittites, as far as we can tell, and the Greek myths provide enough examples of inheritance by the son-in-law that it seems a strong indication that in their distant past, when the myths were set, that was the norm for them, as well.)  However, there are also indications that the Mycenaean kings may have had two wives:  one to gain them their throne, and one from elsewhere.  (As Telamon, King of Salamis, had two sons, one by his wife, who had been his ticket onto the throne of Salamis, and one by his Trojan “concubine.”  In the Late Bronze Age, Aias and Teukros were probably both legitimate, but in different ways.)  So perhaps a secondary wife was brought to Troy by a king or prince?  Well, it’s not impossible.  But I don’t know how probable it is, either.  There are so many question marks, you know?

And by this point…if I had anywhere else I wanted to take this, I’ve forgotten it, so I’m just going to stop here.

I want to get back to my writing anyway.  I’m almost done with my (very) loose adaptation of “Achilles in Petticoats” into a modern, more mythically accurate, less ludicrously sexist play, and I’d like to finish it up before Christmas if I can.

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